PlayStation All-Stars game director: 'Kratos was the hardest character to create'
4th Oct 2012 | 01:22
In an interview with CVG Australia, SuperBot game director Omar Kendall talks
Omar Kendall has a long history making fighting games. He's worked on titles ranging from Backyard Wresting through to THQ's UFC Undisputed series, and even worked as a designer on Neversoft's Tony Hawk games (which isn't a fighter, obviously). Coming from a lineage like that, approaching a mash-up style party fighter like Battle Royale presents its own strange challenge, and in the following interview, Kendall discusses making Sackboy and Kratos equals, coordinating protective third-party publishers, and why Kratos was the hardest character to get right in PlayStation All-Stars.
How do you get the balance right in a game that features so many varying characters with so many unusual movesets?
KENDALL: The first thing that we tried to do was capture the essence of the characters. What that means for me is, you've got characters like Kratos or Heihachi who have appeared, maybe not in a game quite like this before, but there are enough similarities that if you just draw almost one-for-one the different techniques they have, you go a long way in accurately representing that character. Then you've got characters like PaRappa the Rapper, Fat Princess, or even Sweet Tooth, who appear in an incarnation in Playstation All-Stars unlike anything they've ever appeared in before. What you have to do with those characters is look at how the players feel about those characters, their strong personality traits, and look for ways to realise that essence into a combat moveset.
[That means] you'll have things like PaRappa the Rapper's Level 3 Super, where he's holding a concert and screaming out, and then everyone dies. Then you've got Fat Princess using her villagers in her moveset and things like that. We really do that first, because we feel like people are coming to this game for the love of these characters and these worlds, and we want to make sure the characters hit all the notes that players expect them to. Then we look at where they shake out the balance of the game after that, and we do have to draw from a lot of our expertise as fighting game guys to do that.
We have a lot of telemetry that's built into the game, and we have these different metrics that we can track. The energy that powers the Super, which is called AP or Allstar Power, we can monitor how much AP a character can accumulate over time, and how much their Supers cost and tweak them based on their real-world performance as opposed to a perceived "I feel like this character is too strong" or "this character is too weak". We can look at a particular character and say "this character's Level 2 Super doesn't get nearly as many kills as the rest of the characters on the cast, so what can we do to address that issue." That's a secondary layer that we apply once we've nailed the characters.
So players won't find that Kratos has a huge advantage over Sackboy.
[Laughs] Well knock on wood, our goal is really to create something viable. We know that the game will be appreciated in different ways by different players, but there's a large part of the team at SuperBot that approaches this very much as a serious fighting game, and character balance is a big part of that. Being able to select a character because you like them, not because you think they're strong, that's important for us.
There are a lot of first party Sony characters, but also several third-party ones. Is there much to-and-fro with third party publishers and their studios regarding getting the tone right with their characters? Have there been any clashes?
Yeah, actually you could include first party in that question. From the outside one might think that it's a Sony game with Sony characters so they can do what they want with those characters, but it's really not the case. Each IP holder, even on the first party side, has a huge say in the way that we handle these characters, up to and including even their presence in the video game: we had to get out and get permission from everyone to have these characters appear. It's a really intensive process, and I understand it and I don't hold it against these IP holders because they invest a lot of time and energy and value into these different characters and worlds, and they want to make sure that's protected.
The third party characters who represent the biggest challenges are the ones that appear in games that aren't out yet: Dante from the new Devil May Cry, Raiden from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, those were characters that were being developed [at the same time as PlayStation All-Stars], and we're constantly pushing on [those studios] to answer questions that maybe they haven't even answered for themselves yet. It's certainly tough and challenging, because we both want to, on both sides, make sure we represent those characters as faithfully and accurately as possible to meet fan expectations.
Regarding story, will there be any plot to the single-player mode?
Absolutely. We take inspiration for our single-player story mode from traditional fighting games. You'll select your character, you'll find out what brings that character to the PlayStation All-Stars universe, what they're doing there, and what their motivation is. You'll play in a couple of different match types against various different characters, and then we have this rivalry system. This goes back to one of the very basic motivating ideas that contributed to the PlayStation All-Stars becoming a video game, which was the idea of fantasy match-ups.
Like, what would happen if Ratchet and Clank met up with Jak and Daxter? We actually have a rivalry concept in the game where, during each character's individual arcade progression they'll meet a rival, and that will introduce easter egg type elements. We sort of have fun with different characters. For instance, Dante in the game, his rival in the game is Nariko, both of those characters obviously being handled by Ninja Theory. It's little things like that that we've played with. Then of course they'll meet at the end what we're calling a "boss battle", but we're not talking about that. There will be a resolution there. Obviously the story of All-Stars isn't exactly canon, we don't want Kratos and Drake to go back to their universes and reference [our story], but we're having a bit of fun with it.
What kind of personality does Battle Royale have, in your opinion?
That's an interesting question. I think there's something very absurd in the basic premise of a game where Kratos is fighting PaRappa the Rapper. It does lend itself to a bit of ridiculousness. Just based on the premise, we've got a no-holds-barred approach to move design, level design, different ideas for systems... there's a sort of tongue-in-cheek light-heartedness that the game just intrinsically has. At the same time we're pretty serious competitive fighting game dudes, or at least a large contingency of the guys at SuperBot are, so I think despite the ridiculous nature of some of the elements, at its heart Playstation All-Stars is a pretty serious fighting game. We really embraced the mash-up concept. We allowed ourselves to really embrace all sides of the type of game Playstation All-Stars represents.
It looks like some of the arenas will be interactive. Is that true for every level?
Yeah, all of the levels have a bit of interactivity. The way we look at it, each level has a mash-up, so [for example] you'll have the Stowaway - which is an Uncharted level - fly by the Bioshock Infinite city of Columbia. Each level represents two different worlds, but each world has interactivity and a liveliness to it. It's not just a level that you're fighting on, it's a world that you're fighting in. The world is constantly acknowledging your distance, acknowledging the distance of the two mash-ups, and being able to negotiate a level hazard and what your opponent is doing to you are vital skills in PlayStation All-Stars.
What's your personal favourite character?
I will preface this by saying that just because they're my favourite doesn't mean they've received any special attention, and are not overpowered in any way! My favourite is Nariko. I think she has a really cool style, and just in general she's a character that has always been very interesting. She hasn't had the loudest voice to date, but I think the way she comes together really pays tribute to her character. She's got a real high risk / high reward play style that I enjoy.
Was there any particular character that was really tough to bring to life in the context of a game like this?
Again, the hardest characters are the Dantes and the Raidens, the ones that are still being developed, and we take a lot of educated guesses in terms of how players are going to respond to those characters. But even a character like Kratos, who has appeared in half a dozen action games, his problem is that he has so much functionality. He has so many weapons, so many appearances and so many iconic moments. The Kratos that appears in the mind of players when they imagine Kratos is really hard to get. Is there a particular weapon, or a particular moment in that character's history that speaks to players as the quintessential Kratos move or moment? It's characters like that which present the greatest challenge, the ones that have the longest lineage. You need to try to capture that essence in a few dozen moves.